Obituary: Tofino MD helped create Pacific Rim National Park

In the 1960s, Long Beach was almost too beautiful to survive. People pitched their tents, lit campfires and drove their cars on the sandy expanse.

The road connecting Port Alberni to the west coast beaches could barely be called a road, with a dozen potholes for every switchback, and tire blowouts were common. But still the people came. And some liked it so much, they decided to stay and squat on the beach and in the bush.

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Tofino's longtime doctor, Howard McDiarmid, feared that if something wasn't done to protect the area, it would become overrun with tourists, its natural beauty ruined by too many people with not enough sense.

As a doctor, McDiarmid delivered 100 babies a year in Tofino. As a politician, he is credited with bringing Pacific Rim National Park Reserve to life, protecting the sensitive ecosystem for generations to come.

His family also founded the Wickaninnish Inn, which continues to run.

McDiarmid, 83, died Wednesday of cancer at Royal Jubilee Hospital.

"He was very passionate about the things he was interested in," his oldest son, Charles, said Thursday.

That passion was evident in everything McDiarmid did, such as setting up a curling rink in a hangar at Tofino's airport, tending to the sick or injured by candlelight during an epic west coast storm and convincing Premier W.A.C. Bennett to cough up cash to improve the road to Tofino.

"It was about getting things done," said Charles. "He didn't stand on protocol too much. It was whatever it took to get something accomplished. He wasn't a by-the-books sort of guy. He tended to take the shortest route to get something done."

McDiarmid was elected a Socred MLA in 1966 and 1969, representing Tofino and the area around Port Alberni. Herb Capozzi sat next to McDiarmid in the legislature.

"We were very good pals," Capozzi, 85, said from Kelowna Thursday.

"He was a good talker, a good person, a great pleasure to be with."

McDiarmid didn't follow the crowd in the legislature but spoke his own thoughts in his own way, said Capozzi, who represented Vancouver Centre.

McDiarmid came to Tofino in 1955, a bachelor fresh out of medical school and eager for adventure. He wasn't in town long before he left again, briefly, to fly to Bermuda and reconnect with a nurse named Lynn. A whirlwind courtship ended in marriage and he brought his wife back to Tofino, which at the time was an isolated community of 400 people, accessible only by sea and air. The area didn't open up until 1972, when Highway 4 between the west coast and Port Alberni was paved.

The McDiarmids raised their children with equal parts love and discipline.

"It was hard to play hooky from school — he could tell when you weren't sick," said Charles.

In fact, McDiarmid had an amazing talent at diagnosis.

"He was as good as it gets in any big city anywhere when it comes to diagnoses — it was almost freakish," Charles said.

McDiarmid loved the west coast of the Island, said Charles: "He never wanted to leave. One of the primary reasons he became an MLA was he wanted the provincial government to buy into it becoming a park. He got Wacky Bennett to say, 'You'll get your park.'"

The provincial approval helped convince the federal government to add Pacific Rim to its park system.

The doctor was persuasive on matters he cared about, said his son. "He could describe things in a way that when you listened to him, you couldn't help but agree.

"He was an indomitable force. When he put his mind to something there was very little you could do to stop him."

He wrote his memoirs a few years ago and, with characteristic straightforwardness, named the book Pacific Rim Park.

McDiarmid is predeceased by his daughter, Karen. He is survived by his wife Lynn, and three sons: Charles, Jim and Bruce.

A private family service will be held in Tofino in September.

smcculloch@tc.canwest.com

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